Friday, August 08, 2014

Build Your World, then Use It!

I had a rather low-key birthday mostly spent working, though I did make a nice dinner and allowed myself dessert (a chocolate cupcake, fresh cherries and chocolate ice cream). In addition to the mail organizer, my other present to myself was a new teapot. Not that I really need more teapots (I have two functional ones and two decorative ones), but this one was too pretty to resist, and it's a small two-cup size, for those occasions when I don't want a whole pot of tea. It's white and has little sculpted porcelain roses on it. There was a matching creamer I was tempted to get, but I'd picked up more things than I planned and couldn't physically carry one more thing, and I didn't want to go back for a cart. But I may get the creamer later if they still have one, for when I want to have a really nice, fancy tea and not just pour the milk straight from the jug. Strangely, the matching teacups weren't cute at all. But that's the joy of white china -- you can easily mix and match it.

Though I really shouldn't buy more stuff that's not of an organizational aid nature when I'm hoping to move within a year. I'm supposed to be getting rid of stuff. Still, pretty teapot!  And it makes me happy.

Anyway, I mentioned that I've been marathoning Once Upon a Time. On paper, this is basically the series that was written just for me. We've got fairy-tale mashups -- Snow White and Red Riding Hood are best friends! The Evil Queen (Snow White's stepmother) and Maleficent hang out and swap spells! We've got fleshed-out fairy tales that go beyond what's in the tales and tell the "real" story -- Snow White becomes a badass fighter and bandit after she's exiled by her wicked stepmother, her Prince Charming turns out to be a farmboy whose twin brother was taken by Rumpelstiltskin to be raised as a son by an evil king, and then when he gets himself killed, the farmboy twin is forced to step into the role of prince. And we've got a crazy juxtaposition of the real world and the fairy tale world when the Evil Queen casts a curse that transports the people of the fairy tale realm to our world, where they end up in a small town in Maine (probably just down the road from Haven), unaware of who they really are until the curse is broken, and even then, they're stuck in Maine, aware of who they are but also with memories of living in our world. It's basically the story I wish I could steal, then go back in time and write it myself and do it right before they get to it (because the things I like are a bit too specific to be able to get away with filing off the serial numbers).

But at the same time, it can be very frustrating to watch, especially if you're a fantasy novelist. For one thing, they utterly fail at world building. It's clear that they're making up the world as they go, and there's no "system" behind their magical system. They keep throwing out and then disregarding the rules they establish for magic, depending on the needs of the plot and which character is involved. They keep saying "magic always comes at a price," but the bad guys (and semi-bad guys) can do just about anything with a wave of a hand, with no cost at all. They don't run out of power, they don't get tired, it doesn't sap their life force. They're pretty much invincible. They may be warned about the consequences of something they're going to do, or if they're on a redemption path they may make a sacrifice -- but then those consequences don't come about and they get back the thing they sacrificed. The guest villains, who are on for a half-season arc, are just about untouchable until about the next-to-last episode in the arc, when suddenly they're defeated pretty easily by the same people who were helpless against them up to that point. Meanwhile, the good guys who have never been villains (there are a couple of main characters who are villains who kind of function like heroes most of the time, but that's a subject for another rant and I'm just getting warmed up) have all kinds of rules and limitations on what they can do, and most of them have no access to magic at all. Those who do have magic are usually in a situation where they can't use it or where their magic doesn't work. Basically, it comes down to the magic working a certain way unless it doesn't.

But I think my real world-building disappointment is that they don't really use that juxtaposition between our world and the fairy tale world. For most of the characters, it's not a real fish-out-of-water situation because the curse gave them fake memories of having always lived in this town, and they retain those memories as well as the real memories of having lived there, so they know how to use things like cars and phones. But we don't really get any reaction from the fairy tale people to our world. You'd think there would be some comparing and contrasting going on. The Evil Queen set herself up as mayor through the curse, but after the curse was broken, there was one brief moment when she's ousted by the angry townspeople, and then she's right back in office, with no one questioning her. Is that because the writers forgot or because the people haven't wrapped their minds around the fact that they now live in a democracy? Would they try to re-create their way of life in a modern American town or embrace the new life? They've done a few little things -- Prince Charming in our world becomes a deputy sheriff, and he wears a shoulder holster with a gun and carries a sword -- but they really don't let themselves have fun with the premise of fairy tale characters in our world.

Even when they get temporarily sent home, we don't get to see their reactions to the change. Is there something from our world they might try to establish in theirs? For instance, when the curse takes Snow White to our world, she has a short pixie haircut, but in her home world, she has long princess hair. We don't know what she thinks of this -- is she horrified by losing all her hair and trying to grow it out, or does she discover she loves how easy it is to deal with? We don't know, other than that she doesn't cut her hair off when she gets back home.

Even when they do have a character who's a fish out of water, who doesn't have any cursed memories, we don't get to see them interacting with or reacting to our world. Captain Hook has traveled back and forth via portal, and his only reaction to dealing with modern America is being a bit baffled by hospital Jello. Now, some of that is in character, as he's very clever and observant and also not one to let on that he has any weakness, so he'd figure things out as he goes and not let anyone see him react with shock, but still, you'd expect at least something from a guy who's not only in a different world, but who's out of time even in his own world (thanks to a long sojourn in Neverland), and it mostly comes across as the writers forgetting that this one character is in an entirely different situation from the rest of the cast.

There's so much potential here that they've forgotten about or neglected entirely, mostly because I get the impression that the writing staff has the attention span of toddlers with ADD who've eaten too much sugar, so they're always rushing off to the next shiny story idea before they finish adequately telling the previous one. I do recognize the impulse when you get the shiny new idea midway through a story, but it really is like the moment they get a shiny new idea, they handwave a quick resolution to the current storyline and then jump to the next one.

And then there's the wonky morality, but that's another rant entirely.

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